“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats
When was the last time you experienced a sense of wonder, of true awe? Maybe at the sight of a magnificent sunrise or the blossoming of a tree in Spring?
In this fast-paced world, wonder is probably not an emotion that you experience regularly. It is easy to get caught up in the noise and haste that modern life brings and miss the multitude of marvels all around.
Wonder is defined as a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar. It’s a state of deep attention that creates a sense of calm. It helps us think more clearly and connect to phenomena beyond ourselves. It has never been more important to cultivate than in an era when, as the tech executive Justin Rosenstein puts it, “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”
Regularly experiencing a sense of wonder can lower stress levels and have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. In addition, it can slow down our perception of time, and keep us grounded in the moment. Wonder helps us feel alive, be more fully engaged and fascinated by the world, and take pleasure in it. It helps us feel more connected to others and less obsessed with ourselves.
Michelle ‘Lani’ Shiota, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Arizona State University, argues that awe and wonder are a fundamental part of being human, making our bodies and minds more receptive to new information, new experiences, and life’s deeper meaning.
But how do we access this sense of wonder more frequently?
Firstly, we need to learn to slow down, to listen, to notice. This takes practice, and for me is something I’m still learning to cultivate daily. Until recently, I had become so addicted to busyness, to work, constant connectivity, the noise of the news and social media. Particularly during the pandemic, boredom and procrastination gave rise to endless scrolling on Instagram, obsessively checking emails and I reached a point of burnout.
In my 20s, whilst backpacking around Asia, Australia, and the Cook Islands, I would experience a sense of wonder regularly. Cobalt blue seas that glistened, skydiving over paradise islands, waking up to awe-inspiring sunrises and sitting with the locals, chatting about life as the sun went down. It gave me a sense of freedom, of openness, that anything was possible. But those familiar feelings had become elusive now, in my 40s.
Beaten down by burnout, along with some painful personal events over the past five years, I was running on empty and living with anxiety, that at times nearly crushed me. I knew something had to change, but I didn’t know how to get back to that place of possibility and expansiveness I’d felt all those years before. So, I began to slow down, to quieten the chaos in my head.
It wasn’t about running away from the mundanity of daily life, jetting off to go backpacking and trying to re-create those feelings from the past. It was about starting where I was, in the present moment. It was about appreciating what I already had and seeing the little pieces of wonder that surrounded me if I could just dial down the noise and notice.
I decided to start taking more walks in nature. To breathe in the air, watch birds soaring overhead. To feel rain and sun on my skin and let all the emotions come up and just notice. Walking the same route near home day after day brought up feelings of boredom some days and calm the next. But, as the weeks and months passed, and I was alone with myself, feelings of wonder did start to emerge, and I could hear myself again. That sense of wonder is not necessarily a daily occurrence, and cannot be forced, but slowly, things did start to shift.
Wonder can be fleeting, but it is possible to notice with practice when it arises. If we learn to put down our phone, close our laptop and go outside just for a short while each day, in solitude, we start to see things with new eyes.
"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust
With a desire to share what I’ve learned about slowing down and noticing wonder, particularly during challenging times, I created the Little Piece of Wonder Everyday e-course.
This course is about opening up to your own very personal sense of wonder, one day at a time. It’s an invitation to switch off your devices and tune in to the world around you, to explore, look up, listen and daydream. Get curious and never stop wondering.
To find out more and sign up click here.
Emma Coxon is a writer and blogger who lives in the Wiltshire countryside and is passionate about helping others to re-connect with themselves and nature. Find her at littlepieceofwonder.co.uk
Images: Amy Luo and Abigail Ducote